I have long talked about Operators allowing third party access to network APIs. This ‘holy grail’ for developers has come closer one step with the GSMA 3rd Party Access (Access) initiative which aims to identify and provide means for 3rd parties to more effectively and efficiently utilise operator network and service capabilities
I think this is a positive step and I fully endorse it(just as I have historically supported other pragmatic Operator led initiatives like Vodafone Betavine. So, if you are interested please comment here but also join the initiative via the link(coming soon)
In this context, 3rd parties are Web content and service providers, namely Websites and client applications that access services over HTTP. The goal is to stimulate innovation; facilitate development and deployment; and increase portability between operators. This will improve the mobile Web user experience, and hence benefit users, operators and providers.
GSMA 3rd Party Access (Access) initiative is a project run by the GSMA, supported by 10 operators with a global footprint, aims to deliver ‘sandbox’ APIs in 2008 and live implementations in 2009. The project is being run as an open Web beta, with collaboration encouraged from Web developers, network vendors, operators and aggregators. This will ensure relevance and quality of the APIs. The project will reuse parts of existing standards, documented in a way so as to be more easily used by Web developers. An SDK featuring tests, tutorials and a Wiki will be available. As well as facilitating technical portability of applications/web content, the project aims to simplify the sign-up process for smaller developers working with operators.
This initiative benefits all parties and benefits include:
a) Reducing fragmentation : Multiple proprietary APIs means only 3rd parties with sufficient resources can develop and maintain integrated applications. This creates a barrier to entry for smaller, innovative players and wastes resources at the larger 3rd parties.
b) Avoids operator dis-intermediation: A closed set of fragmented APIs has led to 3rd party frustration. As such any ‘workaround’ API that offers near-equivalent functionality is attractive to 3rd parties. Users and developers will find a way to apply services via mobile even if it means disintermediating the operator.
c) Open API in line with Mobile Web 2.0 : A common API implemented by all operators reduces the barrier to entry for mobile Web content and services. Less 3rd party time and resources are spent integrating, so more can be spent on innovating. 3rd parties benefit if time to market is reduced and new services can be launched across multiple operators through a single codebase.
d) Can complement operator developer portals : These portals aim to produce compelling applications, which is also the goal of the common API. The operator dev portals may choose to offer proprietary APIs on top of the GSMA core set, in order to differentiate their network
e) Third party access: The API allows a 3rd party to invoke a method and get a standard response from participating operators. The API must be exposed over HTTP(s), but beyond that the implementation is not prescribed: it is up to the operator to integrate into their existing gateway for network and SDP enablers. The Access API can co-exist with Proprietary APIs for incumbent partners
f) Possibility of long tail applications: Operators cannot easily predict Web innovations
…but by providing a common API, we can encourage them on the mobile Web. By reducing the barrier to 3rd party entry we reach out to The Long Tail of customers desiring niche services
And finally .. I like this analogy with the crown jewels from the GSMA ..
The APIs provide a unique customer relationship (identity, activity, billing)… …but like the real Crown Jewels, they can create revenue by being securely and publicly exposed. Hide them away, and people will go elsewhere…. Only joint commitment will ensure success and avoid fragmentation
To conclude ..
The benefit to Web Developers increases as more operators per territory adopt the API…The value to operators increases as more Web developers let us know what they want from a common API…. meaning the value of the mobile Web grows.
Please register at the project portal to contribute requirements to the APIs:
Update: As per comment from Graham Trickey below
Please note that the URL for the 3rd Party Access Portal is HERE